Are electronic exams the way forward?

The digitalisation of education has long been touted as an inevitability for future schooling generations, many of who have already grown up in a world saturated with technology. However, the tech boom has arrived in education sooner than many of us thought with the news that some Australian students are starting to complete their exams online.

In an Australian first, over 2,000 English Literature students from South Australia and the Northern Territory will sit their end-of-year exam electronically this November. The South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) proposes to expand the digitalisation of the curriculum even further by 2020, with eight subjects anticipated to follow suit. While SACE contends that transferring exams to computers is an ‘authentic and relevant experience’ that will prepare students for the increasingly digitised world, others debate that handwritten exams should remain the norm.

To help you navigate the electronic exam debate, we’ve researched some of the pros and cons of digitalising assessment tests.

Advantages of electronic exams

Helps to produce tech-literary graduates: it’s no secret that being computer literate is a mandatory competency in the modern world. Moving aspects of education such as assessment tests across to computers gives students the chance to enhance their technical skills and familiarise themselves with certain software and programs.

Promotes inclusion: handwritten exams don’t cater to students with vision impairments, motor disabilities and learning disorders. Switching the curriculum to electronic exams would help to ease the isolation these pupils may feel from being excluded from the typical handwritten assessments.

Multimedia opportunities: electronic exams present the perfect opportunity for the use of multimedia. Video, audio and animation can be utilised to create a more interactive and stimulating exam experience, while also enhancing students’ comprehension of difficult questions.

Potential for auto-grading features: with thousands of papers to mark, automated grading would be undeniably beneficial to assessors. While a second opinion would be needed to critique free answer questions and cross-check auto-graded results, automated marking could be useful when assessing multiple choice questions.

Disadvantages of electronic exams

Technological issues: let’s face it – computers don’t always work as they should. If software should crash during an electronic exam, students would have to finish the rest of their paper by hand without access to the portion they’d already completed. This creates more stress on top of what is already an intense experience. The adaptability of software to certain computers is also an issue, meaning that schools would need a reserve of laptops in the case of a student’s device not being compatible with the exam portal.

Threat of cheating: while cheating is always an issue come exam time, it could be amplified by the implementation of electronic exams. Tech-savvy students could navigate a software block to access the internet, documents and other programs to give themselves an unfair advantage.

Not suitable for all subjects: while electronic exams would be a good fit for subjects that entail a large amount of writing, they might not be so successful when it comes to science-based areas of study. The use of specialist symbols in maths and science subjects is prolific, so exam software would need to be engineered to accurately include these complex symbols.

Excessive traffic: to cope with a sudden influx of heavy traffic, exam portals would need to be built effectively to ensure that the system wouldn’t crash a few minutes into an exam. With up to 70,000 students potentially accessing the software at the same time, it could create a logistical nightmare if the portal is not able to effectively accommodate this volume of traffic.

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